Pakistan Army leaving no stone unturned to protect Chinese investment

The armed forces and interior ministry have sent hundreds of extra soldiers and police to Gwadar

Reuters February 08, 2016

GWADAR: A heavy police presence, guarded convoys, new checkpoints and troop reinforcements have turned parts of the southern port city of Gwadar into a fortress, as Pakistan's powerful military seeks to protect billions of dollars of Chinese investment.

Securing the planned $46 billion economic corridor of roads, railways and pipelines from northwest China to Pakistan's Arabian Sea coast is a huge challenge in a country where militants and separatist gunmen are a constant menace.

The armed forces and interior ministry have sent hundreds of extra soldiers and police to Gwadar, the southern hub of the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and more are on their way.

Gwadar residents voice concerns over CPEC benefits

A soldier and his dog search cars traveling at a checkpoint on the main highway outside Quetta, Pakistan November 30, 2015. REUTERS

"Soon we'll start hiring 700-800 police to be part of a separate security unit dedicated to Chinese security, and at a later stage a new security division would be formed," Jafer Khan, regional police officer in Gwadar told Reuters.

A senior security official in the town of around 100,000 people said a further 400-500 soldiers had been recruited as a temporary measure to protect Chinese nationals.

On a recent visit, an SUV carrying Chinese visitors was escorted by two police cars and an army vehicle, while police blocked traffic at every crossroad along the route. It was not clear who the passengers were.

Keeping foreign workers and executives safe in Gwadar, which has expanded significantly over the last 15 years largely thanks to Chinese investment, is relatively straightforward.

The same cannot be said of the corridor as a whole.

Labourers work on the development site of a storm water drain along a newly constructed road on the outskirts of Gwadar, Pakistan January 26, 2016. REUTERS

Its western branch passes north through Balochistan province, where ethnic Baloch separatist rebels are opposed to the CPEC project and chafing under a military crackdown.

It skirts the tribal belt along the Afghan-Pakistan border where militant groups including the Pakistan Taliban and al Qaeda have long been based, and takes in Peshawar, scene of some of the worst insurgent atrocities of recent years.

Crackdowen and anger

The main responsibility for securing the corridor, vital to Pakistan's long-term prosperity, lies with a new army division established in the last few months and numbering an estimated 13,000 troops.

PM inaugurates Gwadar-Hoshab (M-8) portion of CPEC

Pakistan's Planning Ministry does not yet have specific estimates on how many jobs the CPEC will create in Pakistan, although officials believe the project could generate hundreds of billions of dollars for the economy over the long term.

A general view of the Pakistani coastal town of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea in this March 19, 2007 file photo. REUTERS

Some of the police, army and paramilitary reinforcements deployed in the last year have been stop-gap measures while the new Special Security Division builds to full strength.

Enhanced security goes beyond Gwadar and across Balochistan, an arid, sparsely populated province bordering Iran and Afghanistan which sits on substantial deposits of untapped natural gas.

"We have tightened our security in those areas where the corridor is supposed to pass. We cannot allow Pakistan's economic backbone to be held hostage," Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti, the provincial home minister, told Reuters.

The tough approach means anger is growing among separatist rebels and the broader Baloch community, a potential problem for the military as it pursues a two-pronged approach: amnesty for rebels willing to disarm and hunting down those who are not.

"We consider the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as ... an occupation of Baloch territory," said rebel spokesperson Miran Baloch, a member of the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), adding its fighters would attack anyone working on the project.

"Thousands of Baloch families have been forced to flee the area where the CPEC route is planned. (The) Baloch (people) will not tolerate such projects on their land."

China to provide Rs410m for Gwadar port feasibility study

The low-level insurgency has hit development in the province for decades. In recent violence, five soldiers were killed by a remote-controlled bomb some 50km (31 miles) east of Quetta last month.

Also in January, two coastguards died in a bomb blast in Gwadar district, although in both cases it was not possible to determine who was behind the attacks.

Progress so far "quite smooth"

Army chief General Raheel Sharif, who launched a prolonged assault on militants after Taliban gunmen massacred 134 pupils at a school in Peshawar in late 2014, will hope a sharp fall in violence nationwide will also benefit the CPEC.

Militant, insurgent and sectarian groups carried out 625 attacks across Pakistan in 2015, down 48 per cent from 2014, said an independent think-tank, the Pak Institute for Peace Studies.

"Once people find they have a stake in this progress, the need for checkposts and barricades will disappear," he said this month in Quetta, as he and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif officially launched a new highway linking the city with Gwadar.

The Pakistani Taliban recently threatened to target important government and military installations that could inflict economic loss on the country, although they did not talk specifically about the CPEC.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said progress so far on the corridor was "generally speaking, quite smooth".

"The Pakistani government has done a great deal of work to protect the security of Chinese organizations and citizens. China is deeply thankful for this," Lu added.


VINOD | 8 years ago | Reply Time and again I keep analysing advantage Pakistan. Except that small businesses like eating joints, petrol pumps, grocery stores, gift item stores, mobile shops will get a great boost and help common people I do not see any great advantage to Pakistan. I see that with easy and cheaper transport available Chinese goods will flood Pakistan markets like Chinese goods flooding Canadian, American, South American and European markets. As the Western manufacturers could not compete same will repeat and this will be not good for Pakistan. The Naval and Military advantages to China will be colossal in terms of quick moves and influence in South Asia. Same view has been expressed by many analysts all over including Pakistan and I tend to agree.
Rohit | 8 years ago | Reply @wasim....we have internet, we can surf any sites from sitting in home....we don't need visa to visit any site....if you are so upset with it...then start blocking them or block yourself from internet
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